The Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG) and Transnet of South Africa, who won the US$400 million tender to recapitalise the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), are pulling all stops to ensure the project bears fruit.
DIDG and Transnet cobbled an interim solution aimed at providing 14 locomotives, 200 wagons and 34 passenger coaches, considering that manufacturing and supplying of new locomotives takes between 18 and 24 months.
The locomotives have since been deployed mainly in the Midlands province, where they are moving chrome to Chicualacuala, Mozambique.
Chrome miner, Zimasco, is using most of the locomotives.
Dabuka will be their maintenance depot.
Some of the locomotives are ferrying coal for Hwange Colliery Company Limited.
To underline the investors’ commitment, a rolling stock assessment team from DIDG and Transnet was in Bulawayo last Wednesday and held marathon meetings and facility tours with NRZ management.
NRZ general manager, Engineer Lewis Mukwada told The Sunday Mail Business last week that the company has hit the ground running, moving 771 000 tonnes of freight in the first four months of this year.
In the same period last year, NRZ moved 679 000 tonnes.
Eng Mukwada said in January, NRZ moved 196 000 tonnes, February (178 000 tonnes), March (182 000 tonnes) and April (215 000 tonnes).
“The energy and mining (coal, chrome, clinker and fuel) and agriculture (cane, wheat and maize) sectors have become NRZ’s top clients,” said Eng Mukwada.
Throughout last year, NRZ moved 2,7 million tonnes, compared to 220 million tonnes of freight moved by Transnet.
NRZ expects more business and consequently revenue to flow in the second half of the year considering that the 200 wagons and six-class 34 locomotives were deployed effectively from mid-April.
Said Eng Mukwada: “The impact of the resources deployed so far was felt in May, where a total of 300 000 tonnes is projected to have been moved, compared to 233 000 moved in May 2017.
“The full impact of the equipment will be realised once the four-class 43’s and the balance of three-class 34’s have been injected.”
Courier services for parcels of furniture, groceries, and agricultural produce also rakes in revenue for NRZ.
US$245m for track rehab
As NRZ seeks to turnaround its operations, it plans to rehabilitate the rail network.
NRZ boasts of a rail network of 2 760 kilometres, but 236 km of this is under caution.
Eng Mukwada said turnaround times of locomotives and wagons have become long, resulting in some customers diverting their traffic to road haulers.
Now, NRZ plans to plough US$245 million of the US$400 million investment being provided by DIDG and Transnet into refurbishment of rail tracks.
Eng Mukwada said they intend to refurbish track, signalling and communication infrastructure. This will include the rehabilitation of the mainline track, branch-lines, yard track telecommunications, mainline signalling, facing points protection, level crossings protection, train integrity systems, yards local control and equipment.
Passenger trains popular
Travellers from across the country going to Hwange, Victoria Falls and even to Livingstone, Zambia, are stampeding to catch a train ride.
The trains have become popular because they charge US$5 for the Economy Class, which is US$8 cheaper than conventional buses to Victoria Falls from Bulawayo.
Buses charge US$10 for the 341 kilometre distance between Bulawayo and Hwange, while the trains charge US$5.
A traveller, Mr Nqobizitha Sibanda of Shangani, who was in the Victoria Falls bound train last Wednesday night, told The Sunday Mail Business that he now uses trains more than buses.
“I travel to Victoria Falls at least twice a week and in some cases, I go as far as Livingstone to buy products that I resell in Shangani.
“I get a reasonable profit if I cut down on transport costs,” he said.
For other travellers, travelling by train is not just motivated by the cost, but also the aesthetics.
NRZ passenger services manager Mr Jotham Ncube said, “The trains are air conditioned.
The air conditioning has made the trains popular. They are also on time always.”
The evening trains depart the Bulawayo Station at 1930hrs and arrives in Victoria Falls the following morning at 0930hrs. Eng Mukwada says the passenger business has been on an upward trend since the start of the year, with volumes increasing by 40 percent, compared to the same period last year.
He said passenger trains are also becoming increasingly important in the tourism sector with close to US$1 million being generated annually from tourist trains.
Under its Rail Leisure brand, NRZ has introduced premier class services to Victoria Falls available on charter, steam safari excursions, joy rides and other party trains.
“This is an area of high growth potential,” said Eng Mukwada.
Meanwhile, NRZ has 172 employees comprising 10 engineers, 111 contract workers, one regional property manager, 11 shunt enginemen and 39 apprentices.
The company intends to recruit more staffer members when business volumes and revenues rise, said Eng Mukwada.